Position: 1st place
I entered the John Lucas 50 relatively late in the day. It was always in my mind to do it as a warm-up for Tooting Bec track 24. However, coming only 8 weeks after the WHW and 5 weeks before Tooting I had to be sure it wouldn’t break me. Paul G warned me not to be thinking about CRs or going too hard, that this was a bridge race to the main event in September. It was a way of testing my fuelling strategy and legs again. Indeed, ideally it would have been only 35-40 miles but the Speyside Way next weekend isn’t convenient from a logistical point of view for me so the decision was taken to enter this one.
I am lucky to have made some great friends in running over the last year, none more so than Gerry Craig and Rob Soutar, whom I was able to share/cadge a lift with down to Strathaven for the race start. We chatted about many inane subjects but mainly running. These are two great competitors and they shared the win last year on this course, and with Grant Jeans in the race also there was a strong front-end to a relatively small ultra. The JL50 doesn’t sell out or carry the same sort of attention some of its SUMS brothers and sisters do, but nonetheless there is a decent degree of respect for what is a very long and tough tarmac route. It undulates like the waves on a heart-rate monitor and has a couple of right long and unrelenting climbs.
As we stood at the start for 8am – and after a nice chat with Cham-bound Rosie Bell – the army of relay runners (starting at 9am) were beginning to arrive so it gave us a nice send off. And up the hill we went. As is his want, Grant Jeans, the course record holder on this route headed off on his own. Rob, Gerry and I settled into a nice easy rhythm, running and chatting and generally putting the world to rights. Carrying on from where we left off in the car. We reached the first CP as a unit, I fannyed about with my drop bag here and lifted the spare gel I had placed just in case. Rob and Gerry ran on and I caught Rob a few hundred yards later as he embarked on (I kid you not) his 3rd pee in 11 miles. The bladder of a 51 year old, eh?
A few miles later Gerry was feeling some issues in his hip and groin and backed off to work these knots out. Rob remarked to me that Gerry was a gutsy so-and-so and that he would grind it out regardless. Only 37 miles to go, so not much really.
By now Rob and I could see Grant off in the distance. We worked out he was about 500 metres ahead, or just over 2 mins. We kept that gap for around 8-10 miles. This included a run straight through the second checkpoint which hadn’t been set up yet. For me, it would turn out none of the checkpoints or drop bags were in place for the rest of the race. Apparently the estimates for our arrivals were too generous and as such the leaders would be through all the CPs without any presence at them. A word on this just now. There is no getting away from the fact that is a nightmare cock-up for the race and the runners. I saw no value in moaning about it too much on the day nor now. Someone made a mistake. They didn’t do it intentionally and it wasn’t ideal. Far from it. But, Rob, Gerry, Grant and I all suffered the same issues. I had a pretty strict eating plan I couldn’t execute. Rob was on a Tailwind strategy. Gerry was missing his coke as well. We were all impacted.
From a personal point of view this meant that from 10 miles to 40 miles I survived on a Trek bar, a gel and 750ml of Tailwind with a kindly gardener at 31 miles giving Rob and I some water for our then dry bottles. I got very lucky at 40 miles when another runner’s wife and mum (I believe) topped my bottle up with Tailwind and they gave me half a can of Fanta too. I think Paul was their runner and I am eternally grateful for their support and generosity. A true reflection of community there. I should also mention that some of the race team were going around the course but for some reason my bags were missing, although they did give me a good slug of coke at one point.
In between times, Rob and I caught up with Grant around 23 miles and I passed him and put a short move in to open up a gap into Stonehouse. However, I got to a junction and had no idea where I was. We had been warned that some signs had been removed around Stonehouse and by our reckoning we had missed a turn somewhere. I waited for Grant and Rob, in turn giving up my lead to regroup. We stopped and ascertained the right way to go. Grant was sure we’d gone the wrong way, Rob was certain we were OK. Either way, Rob lead us to the place where CP2 should have been by looping round what I believe to have been the wrong end of Stonehouse. When we reached the marathon on the first really big climb it beeped 26.2 miles on Rob’s watch where we would normally expect it to be. Grant meanwhile called the RD to explain our confusion and he confirmed we were good to continue as it appeared some markings had gone, that we were broadly on the same distance and were well ahead of the field.
Grant relayed this good news to me as the first of my stomach troubles kicked in. Hearing someone tell you are not DQ’d as you squat behind a bush, thankful for the hankies you brought, was a double relief. But what it also meant was Grant and Rob had moved away from me again and I was back in third, and out of drink and food too.
I caught Grant a few miles later before the second big climb up to Crossford. I took it easy up the hill and it was clear Rob had put a boost in while I put a squeeze out and he’d opened up about 3 mins on me. I could see him off up the hill and just settled into a slow and steady pace, clawing back distance a wee bit at a time. At 31 miles I saw the aforementioned friendly looking chap in Crossford – or was it Glassford, these South Lanarkshire towns all blend into one after a wee while – who was kind enough to top my bottle up with water. It turns out Rob had done the same a couple of minutes earlier. Within a few miles I had caught up with and passed Rob. The drag from about 35 miles to Auldhouse is long and boring. A horizon skirting straight road which eventually gives way to twisty wee run through a golf course. All I could think about was my Irn-Bru bottle I had specially for 40 miles. If you read my WHW report you will know exactly why.
But we already know there was no bag waiting for me at the last CP. Thankfully, those two angels were. I was starting to feel pretty nauseous by now. Louise had been up with a bit of an ill feeling on Thursday and afterwards I reckon this caught up with me, coupled with the feeling of a complete bonk due to lack of calories, later in the race. During the last 10 miles I was sick four times, unable to hold the Tailwind down it was a case of just muscling my way to end. My pace slowed badly and a trip to the loo (again) meant I was really suffering over the last 90 mins. Whilst I would normally be concerned about this I am actually really pleased about how I reacted to it.
For one, I got through it and got the job done. Secondly, the attrition that I had to fight mentally and physically from the lack of food and drink played a part in how I felt. In terms of a bridge race I actually got a lot of good data for how I would handle this kind of thing in the 24 hour. Whilst I went into a dark place with the barfing, I also enjoyed the challenge (in retrospect) and feel like I added a notch to my mental belt as a result. In many ways, the sickness and drop bag issues were good tests of my resolve and I hope I passed.
For an ‘off the radar’ long run in preparation for the track 24 this ended up a pretty dramatic and eventful day out, and hey, that is ultra-running. You cannot take anything for granted I suppose.
Back in the race, Rob put in a strong run to smash his course PB (and remember he is a two-time winner) and broke 6:30 to finish 2nd. Meanwhile, Gerry did grind it out and whilst a tad slower than last year he still crushed 7 hours to take 3rd place. Grant dropped at around 32 miles. For me the greatest part of the day was getting to share a podium with two guys who have been amazingly friendly, supportive and encouraging to me over the years as I have grown into ultra-running. We train together sometimes and it is an honour to be mentioned in the same breath as these guys, a pair who have been consistently at the sharp end of ultras in Scotland for years now.
Thanks to Paul Giblin for his support and cajoling. Some journey, eh? And of course, Mrs Stewart and the boys, for sharing a Domino’s pizza, your general all round cheering and tolerance of my filthy shoes and sweaty gear.
(at time of writing no results have been published so am unable to confirm relay or ladies race winners)